Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
It’s been nine years since the infamous balloon boy incident. Nine years since reports of a boy being trapped in a soaring balloon first came in, and nine years since these reports were proven to be a hoax. As such, we here at Mandatory felt it would be appropriate to recap the associated events that occurred almost a decade ago in order to keep the bizarre happening from being forgotten.
It all started with a homemade helium balloon in Fort Collins, Colorado. This one, in fact:
The man dashing towards the balloon in that image is a rescuer. He was there because of a 911 call made by the parents of a six-year old boy who feared that the balloon they made had taken off with their child inside of it. This lead to a media reporting frenzy during which the balloon’s flight was tracked. The flight lasted for over an hour and the balloon traveled for more than 50 miles before returning to the ground. During this time not only was much of the public watching with bated breath to see if the boy inside of the balloon would be okay or not, but authorities were also tracking the flight for similar reasons as well. Multiple National Guard helicopters and local police officers were sent out to follow the soaring balloon.
When the balloon finally landed, many thought the absolute worst possibility was confirmed when the balloon was found to be empty. No one was inside of it and some of the people following the story reported seeing something dropping from the balloon, so it was initially believed that the poor boy who had been trapped in the balloon fell out of it and to his death. Fortunately, this proved not to be the case. Unfortunately, it was later revealed that this entire story had been a hoax gone out of control.
As it turned out, the boy, actually named Falcon Heene but now dubbed Balloon Boy by followers of the story, was actually hiding in his attic the entire time of the incident. He was never in any danger at all because he was never inside the balloon and it took off without him. This raised red flags with many that the whole thing had been a sham.
Falcon’s father Richard Heene and Falcon’s mother Mayumi Heene both insisted that they had truly believed Falcon to be in danger, but the truth came out soon enough — the whole thing was actually about the parents achieving cheap fame and undue attention. Not long after the balloon’s landing the family was in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on Larry King Live when Falcon accidentally spilled the beans without realizing it. The following footage contains that interview:
The long and short of it is that Falcon innocently told the truth during the interview, saying that he was hiding in his attic because his parents told him to “for the show.” This made it obvious that his parents had been lying in spite of a transparent attempt at a cover-up being made by the adults.
The facts of the situation quickly came to light and Richard Heene pleaded guilty to the felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. He served several months of jail time and paid a hefty fine of $36,000 dollars, but has since claimed that he only pleaded guilty under pressure from a lawyer. Mayumi served some time as well, but only in weekend jail.
As for Balloon Boy himself? Well, he’s grown up some now and formed a rock band with his brothers, believe it or not. Though he didn’t know any better what was happening at the time, he still has a legacy as an Internet meme and a musical was even written about the incident in 2015. He might not be the only kid who has ever been involved in a weird story involving a search party, but he will forever go down as the most memorable.